Archive | Life as a Writer

An Awesome Night at the Hotel Cafe

If you follow me on Facebook, you probably saw me pushing info on the Tongue and Groove reading that happened last night at the Hotel Cafe. It’s a monthly event hosted by Conrad Romo. It has officially become my new favorite literary event here in Los Angeles, and not just because I got to stand up on stage and be a part of it.

First of all, the venue is super cool. You’ve probably driven past it and not even noticed, because you have to go down a dark alley to get there. It has a certain speak easy vibe about it. If you ever have cause to check it out, you definitely should.


But for me, the real excitement was being a part of the reading. The list of people who have been a part of this is like a who’s who of my local literary heroes, including Janet Fitch, Rita Williams, and David Frances. And after last night, I have to add Jeremy Radin. He read a handful of poems that were stunning. By far the best poetry I’ve ever heard live. Such incredible use of language, evocative imagery and honest humility is rare, especially in LA.

So it felt pretty great to be included. For my part, I’m also excited to share that for the first time, I actually had fun doing a reading. I haven’t done all so many, granted, but this was the first time that the fun outweighed the nerves. Partly it was because the piece I read (a piece titled “Butts”) is an irreverent little story, partly is was the super-cool venue, and partly it was that I had a small cheering section (thanks guys!). It was a great night.

And before I sign off, I have to give a big thanks to Janet Fitch, who introduced me to Conrad in the first place, and encouraged me to submit the story for consideration. She has been, and continues to be, an awesome mentor (and her new book should be coming out soon – I can’t wait!).

The next Tongue and Groove event is on December 8. I won’t be able to make that one, as the Rock Lake Writers Christmas party is that night, but I will catch up in the new year. Hope to see you there!

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Watch Me Turn Red

I know I am not alone in the fact that reading my work in front of crowds makes me nervous. I know this. But knowing it doesn’t make it any easier. Whenever I am faced with the exciting opportunity to read my work for a group of people I start sweating like I’m running a marathon in July.

So it’s no great surprise to me that I’m feeling a little damp in the pits. In less than a week, I will be standing up on a stage to read a short piece I wrote titled “Butts.”

Yes, “Butts.”

Over the years I have gotten better at readings, but this piece was an exercise in voice. I dug deep to find my whitest white trash roots and pour them out onto the page. It’s rude, it’s blunt, and it uses more than one word for male genitalia that I don’t think I ever say out loud, let alone in front of a large crowd.

It’ll be fun.

All I can say is thank God my parents live too far away to attend this one.

Click below for event details.

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Just Because I Don’t Get Paid, Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Work

I was chatting with a friend the other day. He’s all stressed out because he works too much and his baby girl (poor thing) was super sick. I told him I was planning on taking Labor Day weekend to work on my novel and he replied: “I vaguely remember having time for hobbies.”

Picture me as a cat, bristling and hissing.

Here’s a tip, for those of you who have friends who aspiring at anything – don’t refer to their work as a hobby.

I am willing, for the sake of our friendship, to chalk that comment up to his exhaustion, but my writing is not a hobby. Just because I don’t get paid, doesn’t mean it’s not work. In fact, one *might* argue that not getting paid shows an even greater commitment to one’s art, though I’ve never subscribed to the whole as-soon-as-you-make-money-at-it-you’re-a-sellout-not-an-artist thing. I’m not OPPOSED to getting paid, it’s just that, right now, fiction is not paying the bills.

I suppose I would accept the term “amateur” over “hobbyist,” though I do get paid as a professional technical writer. Using a sports analogy, I’m like an aspiring Olympic gymnast who helps kids on the balance beam during the day. Only I don’t have a coach, and I’m not getting any exercise, and it’s much harder to tell if I’m sticking my landings.

I’m a writer, damn it.

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Later, Laptop. Hello iPad.

Cheers BitchesWhat an amazing weekend. The party (my sister’s bachelorette, in case you haven’t been keeping up) grew gradually, starting with a couple friends Friday night. On Saturday morning we slept in, then took a hike up to this amazing lookout over the Columbia River. The rest of the guests arrived gradually over the course of the day and it evolved into a great night. But as fun as all that was, I think the best part was Sunday night, when everyone else had gone home, and we had picked up my niece and nephew. We soaked in the hot-tub, then put the kids to bed and sat up talking, just my sis and me. We tried to remember if we had done that since we started having kids – almost 8 years ago now – and decided we hadn’t. It was long over due.

And since this blog is about writing, and not how much I love partying with my awesome sister and her friends, I’d like to share the latest development in my writing life. As of this post, I have officially gone iPad only.

It’s someting I’ve been reading up on for a while. See, my laptop is getting old and a little slow, so I’ve been using my iPad more and more, and not just for research. I was seriously considering dumping the laptop all together, except that I hate the on-screen key pad. I just can’t work with that. So after some online reading, and a couple trips to Best Buy to check things out in person, I have purchased a tiny little keyboard that fits, along with my iPad mini, inside a tiny little case that fits inside my not-so-tiny purse. I can now officially work anywhere.


The thing that finally allowed me to make the jump is the new Photos app that is replacing iPhoto. See, Internet searches and typing are one thing, but I take a lot of photos. I couldn’t fathom leaving all my photos on my laptop, or having to go through a lot of hassle backing things up regularly. Everything is still syncing, so I can’t say yet what I think of the app, but I did a time machine backup before I began the transfer, so if it sucks, I’ll just scurry back to iPhoto.

As for my writing, so far, I am using Google Drive to store my work, but I am also experimenting with different text editors. I know I may hit a wall if I ever need to work off line, but I am so rarely without Internet that I’m not terribly concerned about that. Besides, I think Google Docs has a way for me to work off line. These are things I have yet to discover.

In truth, it still feel like a bit of an experiment. If you’ve made the jump from laptop to iPad and have any wisdom on it, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Seven Years Down, Three to Go

I didn’t get much writing done last week. We’re in the final stretch leading up to my sister’s wedding, and I’ve been spending a lot of time on preparations. Last week, I was wrapping up plans for the bachelorette party on Friday (so excited!) and on top of that, it was my birthday.

I have mixed feelings about birthdays as of late. I’m not really one to dread getting older. I don’t even mind the wrinkles that have been slowly taking hold around my eyes or the gray hairs that catch my eye in the mirror. The thing that set me squirming last week was realizing that I am now 38, and I started working on my novel when I was 31.

And it’s not done. It’s not anywhere near done. I got some very thoughtful feedback recently, and it has made me realize I actually have a ways to go with it. So I find myself outlining, again. In my darker moments, like this morning at 5am, I seriously consider throwing the towel in. I mean, seriously, seven years. Who am I kidding?

In my more optimistic moments, I think that really these past seven years have been training. There’s that old saying that you have to put 10 years or 10,000 hours into something before you can call yourself an expert. I wouldn’t even know where to begin counting hours, but I have been a writer for seven years now, both professionally and creatively. And that’s not even counting all the dabbling and short story writing I did before I decided to take myself seriously.

After I’ve had my coffee, I can accept that maybe this first novel is training. When I’m not feeling like I want to crawl into a hole and never come out, I can see that maybe my next novel won’t take a decade, because of everything I’m learning on this one. And then I think – what if does? Would I quit? I just can’t fathom quitting. I’m a writer, this is what I do, and as much as I love my job, I am not a technical writer at heart, I’m a storyteller.

Trouble is, it’s hard to stay optimistic. I think for now I’ll forget about being positive, and just resolve to reserve judgement for another three years. If I’m ten years in and still haven’t finished a book I feel is worthy of reading, then maybe I’ll consider giving up. But for now, I trudge forward.


Here’s a photo I took on a research trip to the OK Corral Ostrich Farm (in 2009).

Ostrich Writing


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Wrapping Things Up In The Mojave

Ef Coachella. I spent this last weekend out in the desert for a little get-together that’s come to be known, among a select group of revelers, as Great Friday.

There’s a bit of back story here.

Twenty years ago, some friends decided to host a big party for everyone who wasn’t going home to visit family for the Easter weekend – they called it the Good Friday party. The statute of limitations has run out on this one, so I feel pretty safe admitting that there was a lot of drug use. It was quite a thing.

Within a few years the party had gotten pretty big, and the hosts, if you can call them that, had become pretty well-established EDM (in our day we called it “techno”) DJs. So they moved the event to the magical, permissive expanse of the Mojave and turned it into a weekend-long event. I’ll tell you, there is nothing like the way a bass beat echoes over a dry lake bed at dawn. Nothing.

In more recent years, a lot of us have become parents, which made disappearing to the desert for Easter weekend tough, unless you wanted to bring your kids out to that harsh, intoxicated environment (which I didn’t). So a few years ago the event got pushed to the weekend after Easter, and renamed Great Friday.

So that’s how the whole thing started. And now, sadly, I can tell you how it ended.

This weekend was the last Great Friday event. The organizers either have moved away to distant lands or will be moving soon, and without them there’s no music. Without music, it’s just a camp out – which is still fun, but will never be the same.

It seems an interesting coincidence in my mind that this event, which has been such a touchstone for me throughout my entire adult life, is coming to an end as I finish my first novel – a deeply personal story that is set in the Mojave. And why is it set in the Southern California desert? Because I fell in love with the place at these parties. I love the way the full moon paints the landscape in silver light. I love the way the sage bushes squeak as their thick branches blow in the wind. I love the way the light changes as the sun sneaks up on the horizon from the other side of the planet. I love shaking my bootie on a dance floor that stretches for miles. And I love, love, love my rowdy friends, who really are the best part.

I guess that’s life, though. Things change. Twenty years of partying with the same group of friends is a pretty good run. If I have one parting wish, it’s that I have managed to capture just few hints of the magic of the Mojave in my story. I guess only time will tell.

Here are some shots from the weekend:






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Getting Feedback

I finished the draft of Tallulah Jones!

I’m calling it draft 6, but really, it’s been partially revised and rewritten so many times, that’s just an estimate. Daniel, prince among men that he is, read it in five days flat so that we could talk about it on our drive to Morro Bay this last weekend.

As I’ve said before, I think most people should be skeptical if their spouse thinks their work is great, and I don’t doubt that Daniel is at least a little biased, but he is also a creative professional. He works on screenplays and story development all day every day. So when he tells me the work is good, I feel inclined to believe him.

We went camping this weekend with some old friends in central california. It was about four hours to get there, so we downloaded some Roald Dahl books for the kids to listen to, and we talked story. We often take advantage of long drives to give each other feedback, as we don’t get too many opportunities for long, focused conversation these days.

The main push of Daniel’s feedback had to do with ways to emphasize themes, and really think about the overall motivation of characters, specifically my more minor characters. This is very encouraging, as it points toward the rest of the story holding together well over all. The words “page turner” were used.

So that’s exciting. We will need to make a date to go over the specifics of his notes, but it’s nice to feel like I have finally figured out this story. It is shaping up to be a solid debut novel. I don’t think it will ever be the brilliant work of art I had hoped to create, but it’s solid. And I’ve learned so much. It gives me real hope that this second novel, this story I absolutely love, could get up over that hill of greatness. I would be satisfied with that.

Anyhow, we had a lovely time camping, spent some time exploring, and then hanging at the beach on Saturday.

On the drive home we talked out a sticky spot in Daniel’s screenplay. I can’t wait until I get to read it. For all the challenges of being two creative people building a life together (financial, emotional), I feel so very lucky to have a partner who actually gets excited to work with me on a project, and who is such a talented writer in his own right.

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Balancing a Writing Life

I had a great week last week. I got a ton of writing done, I checked off about a dozen items from my long-standing to-do list, and on Friday, we took the kids to Disneyland.

This is the first year we’ve gone in for the annual pass. We bought the cheapest version, which means we can’t go on weekends, or holidays, or pretty much any time in July, but we only have to go three times a year to make the expense worth it. We went once for Daniel’s birthday, once for my sister-in-law’s birthday, and as it turned out, my girl’s school had a teacher work day Friday, and and I don’t start the new job until tomorrow, so it was the perfect opportunity. We have officially made the annual pass worth it. And the kids are the perfect age. The boy is still a little hesitant on some of the bigger rides, but we had a blast.

And now it’s Monday, my last day before starting the new job. I’m a little nervous, and excited. I’m also a little sad to be stepping away from all the writing I’ve been doing, but I’ll still be writing, it’ll just be science writing instead of fiction. And I’ll still have my mornings. I made more progress than I expected to on the novel last week, and I think with another week or two of mornings working on it, I should have a draft before long.

Then there’s the new story. I’m very much wanting to get back to it, but I’m too close on the first novel to drop it. I’m going to at least wrap up this draft, then jump back into Novel #2. Such is the life of a writer, always balancing the demands of story, with the need to make a living. It can be a busy life, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Life As a Full-Time Fiction Writer

Okay, okay, I’m exaggerating a bit. I’m not a full-time fiction writer. Yet. But I still have one more week until I start my new position as a full-time technical writer, and for these two short weeks between jobs, I am happily pretending that I am a professional novelist.

I get up at 5am and do my usual hour and half of writing to start the day, then take the kids to school, come home, get some exercise, take care of some emails, eat something, then write for 3 hours or so before running some errands and picking the kids up from school. There are some variations, depending on the errands that need running, but all in, it’s an awesome life. And it’s all mine for one more week.

Don’t get me wrong, I am actually super excited to start the new job. It’s a perfect match for my skills. I even get my own office, which I’ve never had. I like the people, and they’re doing really interesting work with water management in California, but still…

Still, the dream remains to be a full-time fiction writer.

The novel is coming along well. I made some good progress last week. I don’t think I will be able to finish it this week, but it’s not that far off. I am going to give it all my attention until I get to the point that I can hand it over to Daniel for a read. Then I’ll be back to working on Novel #2. I’m not sure how to refer to Novel #2 here. I have a working title, but it’s not good. I’ll just stick with Novel #2 for now.

So that’s what I’m doing this week. Just loving the life of a writer, for a little bit longer.

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Two Weeks

glendale stationFriday was my last day of work. As I have been working remotely all this time, I had to make my way down to Orange County to return all my company-owned gear: laptop, cell phone, back-up drive, various cords, company credit card, etc. And since it was Friday, and traffic is horrendous heading north into LA on Friday afternoons, I took the train. It was kind of awesome.

Daniel dropped me at the Glendale station, which is a surprisingly lovely little piece of antiquity in the heart of Los Angeles, and instead of cursing my way through four hours of traffic to make the 100 mile trip to Orange and back, I sat back, relaxed, and started re-reading the latest draft of my novel (before I launch into rewrites during my two weeks off).

And that leads me to this week, the first of two weeks where I am unemployed, but don’t have to be looking for work. It’s a first for me. I love it. And, of course, I have totally overbooked myself. I have a whole list of things I hope to get done with this time, from finally finishing a family photo album, to taking the Pilot in for an oil change, but the most important item on the list is to work on the novel.

I’m about half way through reading my most recent draft. The beginning is good. I’m happy with it, but around page 70 it slows. That, I know, is largely due to the fact that I have rewritten and reorganized the middle of the book so many times that the whole middle section is almost like an outline, but at least now everything is in the right place. I hope.

I have struggled so long with this novel. The only real up-side to those struggles is that I have learned an enormous amount about how to actually write a novel. Never again will I just dive in. I have wasted literally hundreds of pages writing down the wrong path. Thus the fifty page outline for the new project. I never thought much of outlines, but I was wrong.

So I hope to finish reading the draft tomorrow. I might have been able to do it today, but I’m taking the afternoon to go to the spa. In addition to celebrating a new chapter in my life, I am rewarding myself for hitting the writing goal I set 4 weeks ago – six mornings a week, 500 words a morning, for four weeks.

Once I finish reading it, I’ll jump into edits. I don’t know how far I can take it in two weeks, but time will tell.

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